Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Oops! I Voted Again

As I write this, we do not yet know the results of this week’s American Idol vote. I have my suspicions about who may or may not be eliminated, though.

All season long American Idol has made me twitchy with frustration as if I were on a really dreadful, neverending date with Simon Cowell and I just wanted to get back home, but he kept driving. Did you ever have the feeling that you and the judges were watching different shows? The show I’ve been watching desperately needs a laugh track and some flashback sequences.

Tuesday night was like a masochist’s lottery. Everything I have come to dislike about American Idol was distilled into this one episode: the lack of consistency, humor and fair play times four. Clive Davis, who is not content to be the Donald Trump of the music industry but apparently wants to be Simon Cowell, was called in to give an already heavy-handed panel added weight, like a suitcase full of WMDs. I think they did their favorite, Fantasia Barrino, no favors. Her song selections were repetitive and delivered in her familiar gospel-influenced style, but it doesn’t matter to the suits. I think they decided early that Fantasia is their best candidate for the radio airplay and sales that will give the American Idol franchise the legitimacy it needs to survive.

I began Season Two as a Ruben Studdard fan, although the show’s machinations on his behalf and Clay Aiken’s charming transformation changed my allegiance. But one season later I find that I miss Ruben even more than Clay, perhaps because Clay is not "invisible" or easy to miss. Maybe a year from now when I stop twitching, I can enjoy Fantasia’s CD on its own merits without the radioactive Idol baggage. Or maybe not. But either way she will be signed to a contract, as Mr. Davis assured us, and I expect she will receive RCA’s best star making treatment even if she is not the contest winner, which she may not be due in part to the LaToya Effect. This was a pre-emptive coronation of Fantasia in case she doesn't last another week, but it may have been a self-fulfilling act by the judges. If Fantasia’s fans thought she already won a larger prize, maybe they lost their incentive to vote.

During most of Tuesday’s show, I strongly considered voting for Jasmine Trias, just to saddle the RCA and Idol teams with the remaining performer for whom they display the most blatant contempt. But I like Jasmine personally and think she deserves better than that Faustian bargain.

Then I thought about sending the powers-that-be a message by voting for Diana DeGarmo. More than anyone else in the Top Three, Diana would have the clearest mandate as winner due to her consistent standings and performances from week to week. I have always respected her professionalism through illness and the judges’ negligence even if she seemed too Star Search for my taste. Ultimately, though, I decided I would abstain and leave the voting to the fans who really feel strongly for Fantasia, Jasmine and Diana. Being a negative reactionary, pissing in everybody’s Tuesday night jello over a TV show just gets tiresome.

But something unexpected happened as I watched plucky Diana DeGarmo come out swinging for her final performance. Here was a 16-year-old girl whose talents were disregarded all season and who was told earlier by the man who could command her musical destiny that she was unoriginal and not good enough. For the first time since Jennifer Hudson sang Imagine months ago, I got caught up in the moment and forgot about all the petty annoyances.

The modern proverb tells us that character is defined by what you do when no one is looking. I think you can also define character by how you behave when someone powerful has tried to crush your hopes and everyone is looking. Whatever it is, character, conviction or just awe-inspiring poise beyond her years, Diana DeGarmo has it, plus a voice with as much power, control and flexibility as anyone in this year’s competition. And when she poured her soul into that Clay Aiken glory note and held it for all she was worth, I started cheering. Yes!

And so I voted again for the first time in nearly a year. And again. And again. I almost voted for George Huff and Jennifer Hudson many times and I regret that I did not. But I kept dialing for Diana and then handed the phone to my son so I could write into the wee hours.

I know that Diana might be eliminated and my votes will count for little. I have a feeling that Jasmine may live to sing another week. She is sweet and pretty and this season’s Justin Guarini, I reckon.

If Fantasia is eliminated, watch for the viewers and voters to be branded as racist and the victory to be as tainted as American Idol’s prospects for longevity. And then we will have another fine mess to thank the idiots-in-charge for. But tonight I celebrate Diana DeGarmo.

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